I go back and forth about posting book lists and those of you who have been patient readers have suffered through my angst. But I realized something the other day, and that was that my lists, when I post them, are useful, and this blog, if it is to be maintained must be, among other things, useful. That is, in a way, the reason I started blogging, as a way to keep a searchable record of the scribblings that were on paper and in notebooks, bits of paper that would eventually be discarded because I am very bad at holding on to things. In those days I didn't know there was such as thing as a blogging community, hadn't yet discovered the joys of friendships formed through words in the ether, and although those discoveries are their own reward, the truth is that I still need that more practical aspect of an internet journal as well.
It seems that the struggle then is not about the need for keeping a record, or posting such a record, but whether my random scribbles about the books I read are anything more than private scribbles. In short it is a question of public vs private, and you dear readers get to suffer with me as I figure this out. I know I'm not cut out for reviews, I don't really review books, and often my thoughts are a tangled path that only started with the book I read. Nor am I particularly good at ratings or even "best" lists, even though I posted one in December. What I do know, and apparently it is the only thing I know, is that I find the lists helpful, and I regret those times when my posts have not kept up with my readings. And so I shall resume my bookish mutterings and flights of fancy. Sometime this month, the second month of the year, you will get an accounting of all the books I read last year, not because I have anything to prove but just because it helps me keep my own thoughts in order, and they are disordered enough as it is.
So what did I read in January? January was a difficult month for me in many ways, and that may be reflected in my reading.
There were a couple of frivolous, light books, selected because I was either depressed or had a massive sinus headache and needed mindless escape. Candace Bushnell's Killing Monica made my headache worse, and I probably wouldn't have finished it except that tossing it across the room took too much effort. Laura Stampler's Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies was cute and charming, ultimately forgettable, but still a happy enough way to while away a few hours. Lee Child's The Midnight Line was my New-Year's reading and I enjoyed it thoroughly. After a few disappointing Reacher novels, this one reminded me of what I initially loved about the character, and I am more interested in Reacher's development, and often lack of it, than I am in the story itself. In fact the character is probably someone I wouldn't like, except that I tend to respect anyone who knows their own code and lives by it. Lee Child's Jack Reacher lives by a code far stricter than most of us would tolerate, but it is his code and he sticks to it.
Donn Morgan's Fighting with the Bible was an interlude book for the EFM course I am mentoring, and I enjoyed reading it very much. There were places where I felt his analogies fell a little flat, but overall the book made me think and I always like books that make me think, irregardless of whether or not I agree with the author. I wished perhaps I had read the book earlier, during my own first year of EFM, and I like the way he describes the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, as a guidebook for how to live with disagreement and conflict. If you live in a Western Culture, the Bible, in some sense or another has affected your history, your thought, and everything we understand about modern culture, whether you agree with it or not. And we certainly have not used the Bible as a way to resolve conflict -- more often we use it to create conflict -- but that perhaps that says more about us than either the document itself, or the intentions of its authors, whose actual intentions we will never know. I like the play on words, observed by another member of the group, not me, that we can fight with the Bible, ie. fight with the words trying to resolve some deeper conversation with humanity and human history, and we can also fight, using the Bible as a tool for conflict resolution. We haven't done well with that so far. But I'm a big one for hope.
Corinne Ware's Discover Your Spiritual Type was also read in my capacity as an EFM mentor, although it is not specifically a part of the program. It was part of a display of related interesting books in a training I took, and it related to reading we were doing at the time. I found it very enlightening, and again wished I had read it earlier, it would have helped me during a recent period of difficulty. But then again, perhaps it wouldn't have and I am grasping at straws. Still, it has caused me to make some internal connections, some that did not seem initially obvious. And whether one is religious or not, I continue to believe that all humans are spiritual; this spirituality, this seeking for greater meaning and a way to perpetuate it, is a significant factor in our humanity. We can be spiritual in different ways, just as we come in so many other diverse variations. Why can't we accept the common thread that ties us together and embrace the different expressions of that thread, be they physical, mental, emotional or spiritual? But I digress. The book does not ask that question.
Alan Bennett's Untold Stories is at times incredibly warm and human, especially in the initial section, where he describes his mother's mental illness, the dynamic between his parents, and the way that a young Bennett struggles through this period. It is a great example of how an education can expand horizons and understanding but at the same time hamper empathy across what become major social and situational divides. At other times the book was rather ho-hum and mundane, but I found it worth reading in snippets here and there. It is not a good book to sit down and plow through cover-to-cover, but still I am happy to have requested it from the library, and happy to have returned it as well.
My favorite book of the month was Louise Penny's A Trick of the Light. Yes I still love these Inspector Gamache novels. I love the character development and the way the story revolves around feelings and motives and the utter humanity of all involved. There has been a lot of humanity in the last few novels, this one included. Many of the central characters have been struggling, some more successfully than others, a few having worked their way to a new understanding, others still lost. In some ways this book revolves around the struggles of the human condition, and pain, and whether we rise or succumb; around the nature of revelation or understanding and false hope, or "a trick of the light". It is also about he way we build walls and hold on to small things that we think are the keys to happiness and peace, only to learn that we have mistaken safety for captivity, and that what we were seeking all along depended on our ability to change and grow with the world around us. Or perhaps this was just my thought based on my state of mind.
I leave you with that question to ponder. Do we see things that reflect our mood in the things we read out of serendipity, or divine intervention (I don't believe that), or do we find things around us that enlighten our state of mind simply because we are in that state of mind? And does it matter? Is it the road itself that matters, or the journey?